The very nature and burning desire of the lock picker is to cram their picks into as many keyways as possible while they still draw breath on this earth.
But in our pursuits, have we ever stopped to ponder, can lock picking damage your locks?
There are many ways in which lock picking can permanently damage a lock. Several common ways include breaking the springs, eroding internal components, or even breaking your pick in the keyway. For these reasons and more, you should never pick a lock that is currently in use.
Let's look a little deeper into how and why lock picking can ruin a lock.
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How Lock Picking Can Damage Your Lock
While lock picking is a very subtle means of bypassing locks, there is still an endless variety of ways in which they can damage your lock. I've seen people destroy their locks in the most insane and unlucky ways you can imagine.
However, let's look at some of the more common ways in which lock picking can ruin your lock. Armed with this knowledge, you can do your best to avoid breaking your own locks.
1. Damaging Your Springs
The first and most common way to ruin a lock from lock picking is by damaging the springs.
The springs in a lock are designed to withstand the simple and gentle forces of the key lifting pins.
While lock picking is relatively gentle, it can still be rough enough to push the springs past their limits causing them to deform or even break.
Two common things that can increase your chance of damaging springs are raking and oversetting pins.
Raking, by its very nature, is an erratic and somewhat forceful style of lock picking that can stress components in the lock– the springs most of all. While this stress is minimal, you never know what a component's breaking point truly is.
Now, this doesn't mean single pin picking has a cake-free face. Oversetting pins can overcompress the springs, causing them to permanently deform and shorten them.
Both breaking and deformation of the springs can cause serious issues to the lock's functionality– including the use of the key.
If the springs can't fully push the driver pins into the plug, the driver pins could get stuck at the shear line. This is especially true of older locks with rust, corrosion, and gunky build-up.
2. Wear and Tear
The internal components of a lock are typically made of soft and malleable metal such as brass.
In contrast, quality lock picking tools are made of harder steel that can gouge and scrape away at the internals of a lock with "relative" ease—like a rusty cold knife cutting through a rotten carrot.
A common example of this is wearing down the chamfer—or the bevel– on the tip of the key pins whiles raking.
The key pins' bottom tips are rounded off to help reduce friction from the key sliding underneath and raising them.
If we accidentally scrape away this chamfer, the key will stagger and jump while you insert and retract it from the lock.
While this may not completely destroy the lock, after a few attempts at using your key, you'll wish you had finished sending it to its grave.
3. Broken Pick
If you've never broken a lock pick before, don't worry, it's only a matter of time.
Breaking your tools inside the keyway may seem trivial, as most times, you can simply pull the broken pieces out.
However, sometimes a broken lock pick can turn into a nightmare—with clowns and everything.
You see, one of the most common reasons why lock picks break is due to getting snagged or pinched in the keyway while the picker is maneuvering them.
If that snag was powerful enough to break your pick, it might take some substantial effort and willpower to get it unsnagged.
4. Special Lock Features
There are a lot of locks in this world, and many of them vary in design. Some of these design variations can cause permanent damage to your lock while picking if you are unaware of them.
An excellent example of this is the Master Lock 410 LOTO—which, by the way, is an amazing practice lock for spool and tension training. Check out my article on the best practice locks for lock picking.
Now, if we look at the front of the Master Lock 410 LOTO, we can see that it has two plastic notches in front of the keyway that keeps the key from rotating more than 90 degrees.
If we were instead picking this lock and rotated the core past these guards, the pins would fall from the plug into the lock's casing—permanently ruining the lock. For the enthusiast, this is called turning your lock into a "rattler."
While this problem is relatively well known among the locksport community, it still plagues many new and experienced lock pickers—so much so they even gave it the name of the "Rattle Club."
When approaching a new lock, you never quite know what tricks are up its sleeve nor what disastrous effects your actions could cause.
This brings us to the true point and call to action of this guide.
Never practice picking a lock that is in use.
Never Practice on Locks in Use
In lock picking, there are two established golden rules:
- Rule 1: Never pick a lock that you don’t own nor have permission from the owner to pick.
- Rule 2: Never pick locks that you rely on or that are in use.
Now Rule 1 is self-explanatory. However, Rule 2 typically gets shrugged off as an empty warning—I was guilty of this myself.
But as we can determine from above, there is some legitimacy to Rule 2, and ignoring it could cause us some expensive headaches down the line.
You could accidentally disable your or somebody else’s means of securing their property—as is the purpose of a lock. You also stand the chance of locking yourself out of your own home if the lock all of a sudden stops working.
In any case, locksmiths can be very expensive, and fixing your mistake could be very costly.
Now there are exceptions to Rule 2. If there is a clear utility for picking a lock in use—such as locking yourself out or an emergency—and you acknowledge the potential risks involved with picking that lock, feel free to ignore Rule 2. I know I would.
After all, what fun is it to hone a skill that you can never use to help you?
Wrapping it Up!
Now the intent of this guide was not to scare you into believing you're going to break your locks but rather to inform you that it can happen, and if it does, you would probably be happier if it wasn't a lock you rely on.
I hope you found this guide helpful, and if you would like to learn more about the craft of lock picking, consider my growing collection of guides at the academy.